REFERENDUM HEAT

Duale breaks ranks with Ruto over looming referendum

Vocal National Assembly Majority leader backs parliamentary system with powerful prime minister — against Ruto's wishes

In Summary

• Duale says the current presidential system a recipe for post-presidential poll chaos.

• Duale wants office of official Leader of Opposition strengthened and facilitated.

Naional Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale.
Naional Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale.
Image: FILE

Vocal National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale has for the first time publicly broken ranks with Deputy President William Ruto as a referendum wave sweeps across the country.

Duale now becomes the highest-ranking official in the Jubilee administration to openly endorse a public vote to alter the country’s system of government.

The Garissa Township MP on Friday maintained he will support a referendum to introduce a parliamentary system of government to end what he described as “post-presidential election chaos”

For the past seven years, Duale has been Ruto’s most ardent political foot soldier, with a venomous tongue that has kept the DP’s adversaries at bay.

PUBLIC VOTE

Duale now becomes the highest-ranking official in the Jubilee administration to openly endorse a public vote to alter the country’s system of government.

However, the latest change of tune — after initially dismissing constitutional changes — signals a new era in his relationship with the DP ahead of 2022 polls.

“There are some people saying I have differed with the DP, the DP is here to convince me. This is Aden Duale, leader of the Majority and MP for Garissa Township. I am an independent person,” Duale said.

“This is my position and I intend to convince the President and the Deputy President that this is the best way to go in order to have a stable country with reduced ethnic tensions.”

 After Jubilee rode to power in its first term, Duale exhibited unquestioning loyalty to the party leadership.

“If Uhuru and Ruto told me to jump from the top of the KICC and assured me that I will not break my leg, I will jump. I am so much indebted to these men. I can do anything for Ruto and Uhuru under the sun,” Duale said on September 29, 2014.

He spoke as the Building Bridges Initiative wound up its assignment to collect public views with a referendum increasingly becoming inevitable.

Most stakeholders who made submissions to the BBI team implored the Yusuf Haji- led taskforce to recommend a plebiscite to cure the country’s challenges.

The team is set to hand over its report to President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga by the end of October.

In an exclusive interview with the Star, Duale said Kenya’s problem lies in a presidential system of government that has continued to brew tribal tensions and exclusivity with major tribes controlling both economic and political power.

“Kenyans always fight over presidential elections. Kenyans are divided when it comes to electing their president because of ethnic divisions. If we want to make Kenya stable, inclusive, remove ethnic connotations from our elections then we should go for a parliamentary system where the contest will be at the constituency level and anyone who gets the majority of MPs will form government and produce the Prime Minister,”Duale stated.

“That is the only way someone from the Northeastern, from the coast and other minority communities, would be one day become prime minister of Kenya.”

According to Duale, merely expanding the Executive as suggested by various political groups, will not cure the winner-take-it-all scenario.

“Even if we expand the executive and create a less powerful prime minister and two deputies, still the party which wins the elections will share all those seats and so the opposition will still be a minority,” the Majority leader told the Star.

Under this system, the powerful office of the opposition leader would be reintroduced and the PM appear before Parliament to answer questions.

“We will not have a contest on who won the elections, we won’t have a contest at the supreme court and this is a system that is used in countries with huge ethnic imbalance,”Duale said.

For years, Raila has advocated for a parliamentary system of government, terming a presidential systems “a strong tool for exclusion”.

“There is simply no way small tribes like the El Molo, the Turkana, the Digo, among others can ever produce a president under the current system,” Raila wrote in a long op-ed last year.

Duale, a man who has never had kind words for Raila since parting ways in the lead up to the 2013 polls, said he agrees with the ex-PM.

There is simply no way small tribes like the El Molo, the Turkana, the Digo, among others can ever produce a president under the current system
ODM leader Raila Odinga

“On this one, I am in agreement with Raila Odinga and ODM. We are on the same page,” Duale noted, promising to rally his populous pastoralist community to support a parliamentary system.

Ruto has severally vowed to oppose any referendum that includes proposals to create new positions in government.

There have been suspicions that Uhuru and his close associates are secretly supporting a referendum.

In his first visit to Kisumu in December last year, Uhuru gave the clearest signal the country could be headed for a referendum to scrap what he termed a destructive "winner-takes-all" system of government.

“We said we must look at this issue of winner takes all. If that is why some people feel left out of government, we must ask ourselves, 'Is it a good thing or not',” Uhuru said, describing the handshake

Ruto, who has declared his interest in succeeding President Kenyatta in 2022, sees the clamour for constitutional change as a scheme to scuttle his presidential ambitions.

But Duale, a significant figure within the rank and file of the ruling Jubilee Party, warned that the current, winner-take-all presidential system has become a recipe for ethnic tensions and has become untenable for Kenyans.

Duale's declaration could be intended to firm up his grip on the expansive pastoralist region as he positions himself ahead of the 2022 polls.

Political analyst Martin Andati told the Star that Duale could be position himself as the next PM given that he is the senior-most leader from the pastoralist communities.

"During the Moi era, the Kanu gerrymandering gave the pastoralists a lot of constituencies. Duale knows that he can use the numbers to negotiate and become prime minister,"Andati said.

Should Duale be at cross-purposes with Ruto, then the DP's plan to consolidate his votes in Northern Kenya could suffer a major blow and nosedive his ambitions.

During the 2013 polls, Ruto's United Republican Party swept most of the parliamentary seats in entire pastoralist region, political gains that were largely attributed to Duale's efforts.

After dumping Raila in the run-up to the 2013 polls, Duale became a key URP lieutenant in Northern Kenya in what turned the tables against ODM.

He was then rewarded with the position of Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, an influential position that dramatically elevated his profile.

The MP currently chairs the powerful Pastoralists Parliamentary Association as well as the Northern Kenya MPs Parliamentary caucus that brings together seven counties.

However, the third-term MP is guarded on his political game plan and 2022 political ambitions and is playing his cards close to his vest.

Hitherto forceful caustic and conspicuous, the MP has lowered his profile, reduced his verbal assaults on the opposition and softened his stance against Raila.

In 2007, he won the Dujis Parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket.

Due to his position as Majority leader in the National Assembly, Duale is the de facto head of government business in Parliament and the Jubilee Party spokesman in the legislature.

Duale is the second in command in the House after the Speaker and enjoys massive privileges, including an elegantly furnished office with an abundance of aides and official government transport.

But the hitherto, the bullish lawmaker could be trying to chart his own political path and get out from under Ruto's shadow.

The lawmaker, who rarely shies away from speaking his mind, said a parliamentary system would address inclusivity, ethnicity and inequality challenges that are bedeviling the country.

“Right now we have a presidential system that makes the leader of the opposition, who in our case gets more than six million votes, a beggar in funerals and in the streets. He should get enough resources to run the opposition from inside the House,” Duale said.

Duale's remarks revealed the fast-changing political dynamics not only in his ruling Jubilee Party but also across the country in the wake of the clamour for a constitutional change.

The MP is one of Jubilee's most loyal lawmakers and has been crucial in pushing through the ruling party's legislative agenda, including controversial and unpopular laws.

For instance, Duale became the face of the enactment of the controversial election and security laws ahead of the 2017 General Election despite strong protestation from the opposition forces.

Then he railed at Raila and his opposition troops in dramatic scenes in the Chambers that highlighted Jubilee's forceful push to trample on dissent.

Some of the laws were later annulled by the Court.